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Published in Print: June 3, 1998, as Administrators Wait as Feds Postpone IDEA Regulations

Administrators Wait as Feds Postpone IDEA Regulations

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To Superintendent Kenneth M. Bird, it seems that the special education programs in his district have been put on hold.

Administrators in the 5,000-student Westside school district in Omaha, Neb., he said, keep running into questions about federal special education law during routine tasks such as disciplining disabled students or meeting with parents.

Mr. Bird and other administrators around the country are anxiously awaiting new federal regulations that will clarify their responsibilities under the amended Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But the Department of Education says it will likely not release the rules before the summer break begins for most districts.

"It's certainly making life more uncomfortable than it needs to be," Mr. Bird said late last month. "It's like we're moving in slow motion."

Education Department officials first set April as their target for releasing the final rules related to the amendments, which were adopted last June. They later pushed the timing back to late May, but now they say they are aiming for mid-June.

Thomas Hehir, the director of the department's office of special education programs, said last week that his office is still carefully reviewing the more than 4,500 written comments it received on the proposed regulations it unveiled last fall. ("Proposed IDEA Rules Target Testing, Accountability," Oct. 29, 1997.)

"We have a lot of hurdles to go through yet," he said in an interview. "We're spending a lot of time analyzing the comments, and in some cases, rethinking what we proposed."

Taking the Long View

The OSEP has already responded to one major concern of administrators by dropping a proposal that they rewrite by July 1 all individualized education plans for students with disabilities to comply with revisions in the law. 2

But educators are grappling with other IDEA matters, although many education groups say it's not surprising that the new rules aren't out yet.

"Your hope is that you'll have the regulations in place and know exactly what you'll be doing when the gearing-up process begins" at the beginning of the 1998-99 school year, said Michael Resnick, the associate executive director of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. But "one doesn't get overly critical of the amount of time it takes to release complex regulations," he said.

Jo Thomason, the executive director of the Council for Special Education Administrators, based in Albuquerque, N.M., said most administrators had not faced significant problems this school year, although having the final rules before the year ended would have been a big help.

"For this year, it's past history," she said. "Our concern now would be getting them out in time to do any policy and procedures changes for next year."

Myrna R. Mandlawitz, the government-relations director for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education in Alexandria, Va., said the delay has caused difficulties for some state school boards and officials seeking to rewrite state rules to comply with the revised law.

"People are trying as best as possible to use the statute as their guide," she said. "But there are places where guidance is clearly needed."

Republicans in Congress also are anxious to see the new regulations. Members of the House and Senate education committees held a hearing in April to discuss whether the Education Department had overstepped its bounds in some of its regulation proposals.

They will not decide whether to take further action until the final rules are released, said Jay Diskey, the communications director for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

A Good Sign

In the 7,000-student Wallingford, Conn., district, administrators are continuing to use the policies they had in place before the new regulations were proposed, Superintendent Joseph J. Cirasuolo said.

He said he has many concerns about the proposed rules, particularly those dealing with discipline and and the kinds of assistive technology that must be provided to disabled students at school expense.

He added, though, that he doesn't mind the delay since it indicates to him that the Education Department is taking the comments submitted on its proposals seriously.

"I take it as a welcome sign," he said. "If it's a sign that they are looking at these regulations, I applaud them for the delay."

Vol. 17, Issue 38, Page 18

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